For a greater part of the year, New Orleanians enjoy, even endure, much warmer weather than the rest of the country. From late April to early October the thermometer will rarely (if ever) dip below 80°, and when you combine that with high levels of humidity, it feels several degrees hotter. As one might imagine, the almost constant heat doesn’t tend to encourage regular consumption of hot beverages, after all even our cafe au laits can be had frozen. But in the case of certain tipples, we’re more than willing to make an exception.
Naturally, piping hot alcoholic beverages are most often enjoyed during the holiday season, when the weather gods bless us with a short period of cooler temperatures. Toasty cocktails like the spectacular Café Brulot with orange, cinnamon, and brandy, or an Apple Hot Toddy will once again be all the rage, and with it, of course, comes Irish Coffee.
If our city-wide St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and profusion of Irish pubs don’t already make it obvious, a large Irish community thrives in the Crescent City and it’s been that way for well over a century. At one point in the city’s history, during the mid-19th century, the Irish made up a quarter of our population, which at that point made it the 2nd largest Irish community in the country after New York. We celebrate local Irish heroes like philanthropist, champion of the destitute and “Angel of the Delta” Margaret Haughery who established shelters to feed and house orphans, widows, and the elderly. Her statue which resides in a small park between Margaret Place and Camp Street was the first public monument erected to honor a woman in the U.S. Entire neighborhoods like the Irish Channel and Carrollton (laid out on the site of the Macarty Plantation) are teeming with Irish history and heritage, not to mention numerous streets, gorgeous historic homes and stunning Catholic churches that bear their names.
While the temperatures do slowly begin to rise this month, it’s still chilly enough to warrant knocking back a few incredible Irish coffees at one of many restaurants or bars all over the city. This year, though the parades likely won’t be rolling, the cabbage won’t be flying, and the block parties are heavily subdued, perhaps we can still find the space to safely raise a warm, whiskey-laden glass to past St. Patrick’s Day celebrations with the hope for healthy future festivities to come.
Though there’s an abundance of Irish pubs in the French Quarter to choose from, one particular favorite is Kerry Irish Pub. Known for a convivial atmosphere and live music performances, many of those being of the Celtic persuasion, the Kerry is a laid back spot offering not only the “perfect pint of Guinness,” but with several versions of Irish Coffee. Granulated sugar is muddled with a healthy shot of Jameson’s Irish whiskey, though they’re willing to substitute with Bushmills, Paddy’s, or Tullamore Dew, or whatever the customer prefers, and a splash of coffee liqueur. The whiskey mixture is then merged with 8 oz of freshly-brewed, hot coffee, a medium roast, special blend from Standard Coffee of New Orleans, and topped with fresh whipped cream. The pub also offers a “special” version which includes the addition of Bailey’s Irish Cream, because whiskey and coffee liqueur is often not enough.
Only a few blocks away on Conti Street lies the Irish Cultural Museum which just so happens to feature its own bar called the St. Pat’s Irish Coffeehouse. It does, in fact, serve coffee, espressos and lattes made from Madisonville’s own Abita Roasting Co.’s beans, but the name also implies that they offer coffee cocktails, and that makes sense, does it not? Owned and operated by the Ahearn family, the coffeehouse features one particular cocktail, the “St. Pat’s Famous Irish Coffee” which was served in their great grandfather’s bar on the corner of Royal and Canal back in the 1890s. This age-old version follows a classic preparation where hot black coffee, brown sugar syrup, and Irish whiskey (the type of which can be selected by the bartender or customer from their vast selection) is topped or “floated” with fresh heavy cream. As an interesting aside, St. Pat’s Irish Coffeehouse also makes a drink in honor of the previously mentioned Margaret Haugherty dubbed “Margaret’s Milk Punch.” As it turns out, the philanthropist owned a dairy, which is how she fed so many destitute in the city, and it only seems right this concoction be named for her. Made with whole milk, fresh cream, brown sugar syrup, cinnamon, vanilla and, of course, Irish whiskey, this iced cocktail is served in a tall glass and garnished with a whole cinnamon stick.
Only two blocks away you’ll discover a bar that’s a bit more laid back dubbed Fahy’s Irish Pub near the corner of Burgundy and Toulouse. Though they claim to have never “won any craft-cocktail awards” at their little “dive bar in the Quarter,” they have made, and customers have enjoyed, their simple version of Irish Coffee for almost 30 years. Community brand coffee is brewed in a Mr. Coffee machine, mixed with equal parts Jameson and Saint Brendan’s Irish Cream and served in a double plastic cup lined with a beverage napkin (that’s important!). On occasion, bartender Sarah Hicks will top the drink with “a squish of canned whip,” but only if they happen to have some on hand.
It only seems natural to find Irish Coffee at an Irish pub, and there are definitely plenty to choose from in the GNO, but any restaurant or bar worth its salt should have its own special version of this coffee cocktail. On Magazine Street between 8th and 9th, there’s a newer coffeehouse called The Vintage which touts “coffee, beignets, wine, bubbles and bites.” Known primarily for their specialty coffee drinks and bountiful beignets (can you say “fancy beignet flight?”), they also serve what they dub a Classic Irish Coffee. Made with Orleans Coffee Exchange-roasted beans, the coffee is combined with a mix of Bailey’s and Jameson, topped with whipped cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg. You can also get an iced version concocted with their cold brews, one with chicory and one without.
While LeBlanc + Smith’s Cavan sports an excellent bar, it’s doubtful folks see it as an Irish pub, considering it is primarily a restaurant . . . and a stunning one at that. Located inside a historic 1800s-era mansion, this Irish-named eatery also has well-crafted cocktails, a constantly-changing menu created by Cavan’s beverage director Jen Hussey. Her version uses hot coffee brewed from Congregation Coffee beans which she feels “has nice chocolaty dark notes and isn’t too acidic.” Demerara syrup (a type of brown sugar made from sugarcane) is combined with hot coffee, Tullamore Dew, Hoodoo Chicory Liqueur, and chocolate liqueur, and topped with a boozy whipped cream made from whole milk and espresso liqueur, and at last finished with a sprinkling of freshly-grated nutmeg.
Finally, you can double up on your sweet tooth with a thick slice of doberge and a warm Irish Coffee at Bakery Bar on Annunciation Street. Using the Le Grand Coq Rouge blend from French Truck Coffee (it is only two blocks away), this super-sweet bar adds Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey with Demerara syrup and tops it all off with fresh whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and coffee grounds. Anyone else feeling chilly?
*Article originally published in the March 2021 issue of Where Y’at Magazine
**Photo courtesy of Bakery Bar